Ed Miles (The Horse Whisperer)
“Horse whisperer,” a strange term used to describe a person with the special and unusual gift of getting inside a horse’s head and communicating with the animal in a way that is totally foreign to the majority of us. They’re said to have “a way with animals!”
I believe I once met such a person. It was twenty plus years ago and I was hitchhiking across the country. I was on Highway 90 traveling west through Montana in the area of the Galatin Gateway. I can’t remember all the details of this encounter but I can remember the important ones, the ones that have remained in my memory all these years, the ones that lead me to believe that it was a special encounter with a very remarkable man.
Ed Miles picked me up in an old truck, a big, heavy-duty kind, the kind they use on ranches possibly to move livestock. Its bed was hidden by tall wooden sidewalls, six feet or more with a canvas tarp tied over the top, one corner flapping in the wind.
Ed worked as a wrangler on a ranch not far from where he picked me up. He appeared to be someone in his early 60s with a face that had spent many years out in the weather. His face was rough and ruddy in sharp contrast with his upper forehead, which was almost alabaster in appearance. There was a sharp line, obviously the result of wearing the well-worn Stetson he lifted now and then to wipe his brow.
Ed was on his way to somewhere in Oregon, so we’d have some time together, and I was thankful for a long ride. Its funny, I can’t remember saying a whole lot the whole time we were together. I just remember listening, hanging on every word of this remarkable man as he spoke of his life; everything from his current job as a wrangler on a ranch, to hauling fruit up and down the California Coast.
“People always loved to buy my fruit,” he said, “because they knew it would be fresh and in good shape when it got to them. I’d never bruise even one peach. Of course,” he added, “you’d have to lose a whole load to learn that lesson.” In this short time I sensed that Ed was a person who did things with a love, a love for what he was doing, as well as a love for who he was doing it for.
The thing, however, that really drew my attention to his words was when he spoke of his relationship with animals. He said more than once “I just know their language” and would pause as if he were waiting for some particular response from me. I remember reading about people that could become one with the Spirit in all things, that they appeared to have a special power and connection with them. To this day I wish I had asked him what their language was, just to hear the response in his own words, but I didn’t.
“I bet a guy once that I could go into the mountains and have a pet deer in camp in a week,” he said. “He came up a week later, I called a name, and the deer came out of the woods.”
“Even back at that ranch they know I’d rather be with the animals than the other wranglers. I don’t stay in the bunkhouse with the rest. They gave me a trailer next to the corral. I even have a pet prairie dog that lives underneath it.”
I remember riding along for hours as he told his tales. I hung on every word, my head cocked in his direction so long that I felt that my neck would have a permanent crook in it. I could tell that he too was enjoying our time together. I sensed that he knew that he found someone that understood and believed in what he was saying. And I also knew that he probably didn’t find that too often.
But the part of our ride that I remember the most was when he spoke of his job as a wrangler, about the importance of taming a horse without breaking its spirit.
“Where most wranglers go wrong is when they yell at the horse,” he said. They think that if they yell loud enough and show the horse who’s boss, they’ll break the horse. Usually what happens is they just scare the horse and it becomes a battle with an animal with a lot more muscle than you.”
“I learned how to break a horse from an ol’ Indian,” he said. “Ya wanna get the horse on your side, working with you, not against you. This Indian would use nothing but a saddle blanket, no saddle and no bridle, just a leather thong, woven into the long hairs on the horse’s upper lip.”
“The secret is to talk softly to the horse and he’ll strain to hear what you’re saying. I’d watch that ol’ Indian,” he said, “You could be ten feet from them, the horse’s ears would be cocked backwards, straining to hear each command, yet you wouldn’t be able to hear a word that ol’ Indian was saying.”
At that point, Ed and I had been traveling together for hours and for the first time a wave of doubt came over me. He was either one of the best storytellers I had ever encountered or he was who he said he was.
Again he repeated the words, “You’d be ten feet from that ol’ Indian and you wouldn’t be able to hear a word he was saying.
I felt my response rise within me. “Ah, go on!” I thought to myself. As if he knew what I was thinking, Ed looked me deep in the eyes and smiled. At that moment, as if awakening, I realized I was about six inches from Ed’s smiling face. He gazed down pointing with his eyes to the rest of me, making me aware of how close I was.
What I hadn’t been aware of was as he spoke of the old Indian and the horse, he too started speaking more quietly. As he did, I unconsciously moved in my seat, straining to hear every word just as the horse strained to hear every word of that Old Indian.
The loving eyes of that old wrangler assured me that all he had related was indeed true and I was fortunate enough to heave met a “horse whisperer.”